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(PC: Chris Lee)

Philadelphia Orchestra Musicians’ Contract Negotiations Stall

Over 80 musicians of the orchestra have voted against their management’s “best and final offer,” and no members voted in favor


Following the expiration of their previous contract on September 10, 2023, musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s (PO) have voted to reject a proposed settlement, citing issues in pay parity with other professional orchestras.

The vote came as PO’s management, Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center Inc. (POKC) ceased negotiations 48 hours before contract’s expiration, “forcing the musicians to vote on a substandard proposal,” stated the union.

After three days of bargaining, 85 of the orchestra’s musicians have voted against POKC’s “best and final offer,” while two members abstained. As no members voted in favor, the musicians are seeking renegotiation through their union, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer

In August 2023, 95% of PO’s voting members agreed to strike if a new collective bargaining agreement was not reached with POKC.

At the time, PO’s musicians requested better pay, improved leave and retirement benefits, pay parity for substitute musicians, hiring for the orchestra’s 15 vacant positions, plus workplace protections and autonomy — requests that they allege are not met in POKC’s new proposal. 


“The Orchestra's management forced the vote, after it pulled the plug on negotiations and presented the final offer shortly after agreeing to work late into the night on Friday September 8 to try to reach a deal ahead of the contract's expiration,” PO Musicians wrote in a statement posted on Facebook. 

“It also presented a parental leave policy that is worse that the policy that is currently offered to musicians, as well as an amendment to the contract that would effectively end musicians' involvement in the direction of the ensemble and their workplace.”

“The results of this vote send a clear message that Philadelphia's musicians stand together and will not accept anything less than a fair contract,” added PO’s bassoonist and member of Local 77’s negotiating team, Holly Blake. “We have been bargaining in good faith with our management, whose decision to suddenly end negotiations on Friday and thrust an offer on the musicians was both insulting and demoralizing.

“Today we made clear that we are more unified than ever, and stand together for the future of the Orchestra,” Blake continued. “I am looking forward to getting back to the bargaining table and continuing to build on the progress we were making before our management attempted to force a deal that would compromise the future of this world-class orchestra.”


POKC spokesperson Ashley Berke responded that the final offer was fair and would have seen income growth for its members — a 13.5% salary increase across three years.

In the rejected proposal, the first-year minimum starting pay — the players’ salary and electronic media payment — would increase to $161,391, along with a $10,000 signing bonus. Players would see an increase to $172,887 by the third year and would also be eligible for Musician Appreciation Fund payments.

According to union figures, the PO’s base salary without other compensations this year is $144,456. Conversely, the Los Angeles Philharmonic (the nation’s highest-paid orchestra) will have a base salary of $195,520 in the 2023/24 concert season.

Union Local 77 leaders also stated that PO musicians’ salaries have been decreasing in comparison to their counterparts in fellow professional orchestras over the last two decades. 

For the PO musicians’ salaries to reach the average of orchestras of a similar caliber — $172,753 — their pay would require a 19.6% increase. 

The union also alleges that POKC’s offer does not cover the effects of inflation over recent years, stating that “a 6% ‘raise’ is a pay cut compared to the start of [their] last contract in 2019.”


The POKC has stated that in addition to base salary, PO’s financial ranking should be based on their compensation payments and the relative cost of living of the different orchestras’ markets.

Berke stated that PO’s yearly compensation, including all pay levels and media participation payments, is $190,736 — including at least 10 weeks’ paid leave, a health and benefits package, and an 8% pension contribution.

In their last proposal, the union suggested a 15% raise in the first year, to bring the minimum base salary up to $166,140, with additional increases over years two and three. 

According to them, as of March 11, 2026, the base salary would ideally be at $194,220 or the average of the nation’s seven top orchestras — whichever would be higher. The union says POKC can afford the higher compensation with its current finances.

“It’s kind of like if you’re the dean of Penn Law School and you want to attract a professor from Harvard. You don’t say, ‘We’re going to pay less because it’s cheaper to be in Philadelphia,’” said the musicians’ lawyer Stuart W. Davidson, on higher salaries to help fill PO’s current vacancies. “You’re not going to attract young musicians if you pay $30,000 less than Boston.”

Additionally, the PO musicians maintain they each took a pay cut of $52,000 — or $6 million total — during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the orchestra receiving almost $30 million in federal and state funds at that time. 

According to Berke, however, the orchestra did not meet its fundraising goal for the current fiscal year and ticket purchases are 25% below sales in 2019.

“We remain committed to improving the situation of the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra within the economic realities of our organization,” Berke said. “We are eager to bring this process to a productive and positive resolution.”

The next bargaining session is yet to be announced ahead of PO’s opening night gala for the upcoming concert season. The musicians have authorized their negotiating committee to call a strike if necessary.

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